Friday, October 31, 2008

Conversations with Marilyn Atlas, Film Producer/Personal Manager

Marilyn R. Atlas- Film Producer/Personal Manager

An award-winning producer and personal manager, Marilyn R. Atlas is equally at home in the worlds of film, television, and live theater. Among her credits as film producer are "Real Women Have Curves" for HBO, which won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, "A Certain Desire," starring Sam Waterson, and "Echoes," which won the Gold Award at the 1991 Texas International Film Festival. In addition to producing a variety of programming for the cable/ pay TV market, Marilyn has served as a production consultant on the film "Call Me." She was also involved as a producer in the development of the MOW "Nightwalker" and "Playing for Keeps."

In live theater, Marilyn co-produced the West Coast premiere of the musical "God Bless You Mr. Rosewater" by Ashman and Menken, writers of both "Little Shop of Horrors" and "Beauty and the Beast." She also co-produced the award-winning play "To Gillian on Her 37 Birthday," which was made into a film starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Peter Gallagher. Her additional credits as a producer in live theater include "Today’s Special" and "As I Sing."

Marilyn has served as Casting Director for feature films, including John Frankenheimer’s "The Equals" and "The Whiz." She is a founding member of Women in Film’s Luminas Committee which supports the portrayal of women in non-stereotypical roles in film and television. Along with director and actress Dorothy Lyman, Marilyn founded ADT, a director’s theatre, and served on its advisory board.

Marilyn is a member of NALIP, the National Association of Latino Independent Producers. She has spoken at their Writers’ and Producers’ retreats, the DGA-sponsored LA Asian Film Festival, as well as various other symposia for the Sherman Oaks Experimental College, Santa Fe Screenwriters Conference, and Richard Krevolin’s USC Screenwriting Retreat covering such topics as: "Creating for the Actor: Carving Memorable, Inhabitable Characters" and "Ever-Evolving Marketplace: What’s Hot, Why and for How Long…"

Marilyn has also taught several actor workshops on creating "Multiple Viewpoints – One Core" for actors as well as "Acting and Auditioning for Producers." She has spoken at the Texas Bar Association and was a guest lecturer at Whittier Law School.

Marilyn has spoken at various colleges, including Skyline, Stephens,and at the University of Texas – San Antonio’s Adalante Latino Film Festival. She has served as the professional-in-residence (in theater and film) at Ball State University, and was the guest speaker at the International Writer’s Conference at Hollins University. She structured an accredited, intensive course at Skyline College in San Francisco covering the inception, development and promotion of a script in "The Business of Screenwriting: The Idea – and its Execution."

Marilyn is working on a development slate that includes "Lola Goes to Roma," "Suburban Turban," and "Chasing the Jaguar" a film adaptation with Denise DiNovi Films based on the Harper Collins YA book, written by actress Michele Greene.

For television, she’s in development on the pilot "MacArthur Park" first developed for Showtime, and recently sold the pilot "Untitled Posse Project" to ABC Family. She set up the MOW "Bitterroot" at the Hallmark Channel and Starz for production in late 2008. "Suburban Turban" is set for late 2008 production. She is also presently developing a musical adaptation of "Real Women Have Curves" with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago to be part of their Latino Festival in 2009.

Marilyn is committed to projects that reflect diversity and portray non-stereotypical characters.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Conversations with Marilyn Atlas, Film Producer/Personal Manager

Part IV
Conversations with Marilyn Atlas regarding Hollywood, Being There and What’s Comfortable for Them.

Thanks for tuning in to these amazing conversations with Marilyn. Today is our final conversation. Tomorrow check out her bio.

Leslie: It seems that Hollywood want films from well developed franchises or films that feel familiar to them, familiar themes. My mentor Robert Gosnell (WGAw and WGC) uses a term, Uniquely Familiar--

Marilyn: Interesting, I like that.

LA: Uniquely familiar is what Hollywood is comfortable with, yet different enough to make them take notice. So it seems to me that when you risk trying to write something that is off mainstream, you have to rein it in a little bit so that Hollywood is comfortable with whatever off-beat subject you’re picking up.

M: Exactly. Exactly. That’s the whole power of being able to get actor attachments.

Because it comes down to, how am I marketing this? I mean there are a lot of movies that do very well at film festivals and they never get distributed because they can’t find a market for them.

That’s a great phrase (uniquely familiar) and it’s true. It’s what I said about baseball or anything. It’s something that is uniquely familiar, but to me the writer’s creativity is how you spin it and make it slightly different so it’s not what you expected. Did you see the movie Tell No One...

LA: No, but I’m making lists. I’m going to be busy watching all these.

M: I see over 12O movies a year. This is a stunning French thriller. Very different than what you usually see.

Did you see the movie Mongol? Epic and beautiful.

Here’s an interesting movie, not stereotypical characters, Frozen River...a blue collar woman whose husband has left her, he’s a gambler, she has two kids and lives right on the border of Canada, desperate to make a better world for herself and her kids. She’s Mohawk and becomes involved in smuggling immigrants. It’s visually arresting and a compelling story. Because you understand the measures people take when they’re desperate. And the other thing I thought was so wonderful about this, and kudo’s to Melissa Leo the actress, she didn’t glam makeup. You rarely find blue collar characters in movies that are not kind of "done" a little bit...that are really willing to be raw.

LA: I’m hoping everyone reading this is going to go to their computer and Netflix all of these. I am. I want to see why they intrigue you so much.

Watching movies for screenwriting is as important as writing...and reading screenplays. And I think one has the tendency to watch movies that are in your comfort zone, so these will be great for me...out of my comfort zone.

M: What movies did you watch that you enjoyed so much this year?

LA: Charlie Wilson’s war...

M: That was last year.

LA: Oh! Well I Netflix almost everything, now.

M: I go to the movies. I love the experience of seating in a movie theater. I’m afraid if I rent it, I’d read and watch the movie at the same time. There’s always a book, or mag or newspaper near me, and I just have to multi-task if it’s available to me. In the theater I can concentrate on what’s in front of me.

(Then Marilyn asked a bit more about Robert Gosnell. I told her he’s a structure guru and can almost instantly find the theme in my work, where I’ll go round and round trying to find the dang thing.)

M: Oh, that’s a gift. You get both structure and someone who can see theme in one person. Great.

LA: I’m not in Hollywood and I can’t take meetings. I could jump a plane and pitch, but just how much difficulty are we non-Hollywood dwellers facing?

M: Well, I think it’s hard. I mean it’s one thing if you’re established, or have a best selling book and can come for a few weeks and people want to meet you. I think it’s hard if you’re not here, because so much happens serendipitously. Again, though, if there’s something that has heat on it, it doesn’t matter where you are.

While the world is smaller because of the internet, I do think when you’re trying to establish yourself, people need to see you and have a sense of who you are. They need to meet with you and get your sensibility.

LA: I enter contests for exposure.

M: And you’ve had some great successes.

Another thing I think your readers should check out and I think is invaluable is InkTIP ( There are a lot of managers, agents, indie producers that are coming up and may not have a lot of money, and are looking for material and I think it’s a great way to get exposure.

LA: I love InkTip and subscribe to it. They have a free newsletter with a few leads, but I decided to pay for their Preferred Newsletter and at $150 a year, ($50 every 4 months) consider it invaluable because I’ve been able to submit.

LA: Are there are any projects that you want to talk about, that you can talk about?

M: Doing Real Women Have Curves as a musical, with the idea that it will get to Broadway in two years. I produced a workshop of it that did very well and now the Goodman Theatre in Chicago wants to do it next summer.

My next project...which due to the economy is on hold a called Suburban Turban. It’s a multi-cultural, coming of age story set against the world of Bhangra Music. The two leads are a young Sikh boy and his African American friend
. The music is the metaphor for fusion and coming together. Does the young Sikh boy become Americanized or become a Sikh? It’s a comedy, yet makes a lot of poignant comments.

I’m going out again with a pilot to Showtime....I have various things in development all the time.

LA: Marilyn, honestly I can’t thank you enough for your generous gift of time to talk with me.

M: It was my pleasure. I can’t wait to come to let’s see if we can get a class or something scheduled.

: You bet.

And so it ended. A magical conversation with a savvy woman, Marilyn Atlas.

Her bio follows tomorrow.

And Marilyn, I will try to find a way to get you to Colorado and teach a class. How many people want to come? Email me at and let me know. We’ll see what we can do.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Conversations with Marilyn Atlas, Film Producer/Personal Manager

Part III
Conversations with Marilyn Atlas regarding Today’s RomComs vs. the Screwball Comedies of the 30's and 40's.

Welcome back!

Leslie Ann: I started my writing career writing romantic suspense, and used to devour romance books, but now I find less and less out there to capture me.

Marilyn: You know it’s interesting, I spoke at RWA ( conference this summer.

LA: I KNOW, I was bummed, I couldn’t attend. (It was the Scriptscene Chapter’s mini-conference.)

M: I talked about the women, the screwball woman of the 30's and 40's verus a lot of the romantic comedies of today, where the woman aren’t very interesting at all. They’re like props for the guys.

These women from the earlier movies were multi-dimensional, with interesting, crisp dialogue. The women were central characters, not accessories. They were usually very assertive, witty, free-spirited and very playful. Of course, some of the films were written by women. Or by men who showed great insight into female characters and did not portray the women as one dimensional.

Oh, a bit of an aside. One of the things I think is very interesting is there’s this plethora of all different kinds of RomComs coming out or in development, and there has all ways been this theory, I don’t know if it’s true, that when there is an economic downturn, RomComs are a way for people to be outside themselves and escape.

Okay, back on story. Today’s movies need to develop an emotional connection that goes beyond the sexual and the spark of personality. But the problem I have with the RomComs in the past few years, is that the women are not terribly interesting. I mean, it’s either about acquiring a husband or acquiring a lifestyle, or it’s centered around consumerism in some respects, rather than a mutual meeting of the minds.

I think of those movies, like Trouble in Paradise 1932--and the great line from the widow: "Marriage is a beautiful mistake that two people make together." And later on there is some reference to "Americans are interesting people, they are obsessed by two things, religion and money, but they’re energetic people."

Those two comments are very astute observations. In RomComs today I don’t get the sense that there is an external world or anything else.

LA: I sensed they’ve dumbed them down so much--

M: Exactly. And it’s embarrassing for me in some respects because I think, how great in these screwball comedies that you’d find people making interesting conversations. It wasn’t just about the romantic lives of two people, it is their observations about institutions. AND the other thing that was interesting to me was that the man and woman actually had mutuality. There was a mind thing going on...what was that movie with Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant...His Girl Friday! She loved her career, she had a life.

It’s also interesting that a lot of these old movies begin with couples divorcing. You immediately know that there is something that binds them together. I don’t understand in some of the recent movies I’ve seen, what the connection is between these people. AND it’s all about the wedding. It’s as if bright women have nothing else to do with their lives but contemplate getting married.

LA: Which is sad. I think the institution of marriage is great, but come on it’s not the end of the story, but the beginning, really.

I started thinking about some of my favorite RomComs, then tried to figure why they were on my favs list. Was it the actors I enjoyed watching? (Like am I totally into Tom Hanks?) Was it the story, or the couple’s interactions?

Make your own list and see what you come up with. And then share it with us, pro or con.

Stay tuned for our final conversation tomorrow regarding Hollywood, Being There and What’s Comfortable for the Studio’s Today.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Conversations with Marilyn Atlas, Film Producer/Personal Manager

Part II
Conversations with Marilyn Atlas regarding What Actors Want in a Script and Creating Worlds.

Welcome back to Part 2 of Conversations with Marilyn Atlas.

Leslie Ann: In addition to your production business, you manage both writers and actors.

Writers want great actors and actors want great scripts. Is there something that you can share about what makes an actor sit up when they read a script? And are there acting techniques a writer can use to make their script ring more true, shine more brilliantly, so the action isn’t simply what I often see in scripts--stage direction?

Marilyn: Actors are always looking for challenging roles and an opportunity to play a character they may not have played before.

When I read for my actors, the protagonist’s personality as demonstrated in the first 10 pages, should be radically different in the last 10 pages. That represents a successful character arc, and is something actors purposefully look for. They want to SEE the character arc. That’s what gets actors excited. What is the transformation from who I am at the beginning to where I am at the end?

You don’t always get that. Honestly, today, I think that some of the best writing I’m seeing is on TV. I mean I’m bowled over by the great’s dark which I love...on a lot of FX shows. I think the writing on Damages is spectacular. Have you seen it? Your husband’s a lawyer....

LA: So I need to see it?

M: OMG, Glenn Close plays one of the most evil, maniacal corporate attorneys you’ve ever seen. And this is a
woman, which is so interesting, because you don’t usually see that level of power hungry, evil, and maniacal in a female protagonist. I was riveted. If I’m out, I’ll stop whatever I’m doing and run straight home, because these characters are incredible. THERE AGAIN. Interesting character.

I think Dennis Leary of Rescue Me is a genius--he knows these blue collar workers and manages to find the dichotomy between their external world and their internal world. And you can see the vulnerability in how the actors are able to express it.

LA: I’m sure the readers will want to watch the movies and shows to see what you’re talking about. I do. I want to see what they have that makes you sit up and take notice.

M: The characters are compelling and interesting and non-stereotypical and I think it’s interesting to enter these worlds.

LA: Yes! I think the "world" is a big part of it. That’s what I don’t often see when I’m reading scripts. I don’t see the writer taking the time to develop the world.

M: OMG, you just said it. EXACTLY. Did you see Eastern Promises? Not yet? See it! I mean it’s fascinating. I love being transported into a different world.

LA: So when you read a script, when you’re looking for a vehicle to produce, is that something you want? I mean setting the world also means setting the character, the environment, for I don’t think you can have one without it being inexorably intertwined with the other.

M: Absolutely!

LA: But I don’t see that when I’m reading, and yet those scripts sold. WHY?

M: You have to separate out the "quality" dramas and some thrillers being made with everything else. Unfortunately, much of the product that gets made is crass genre material. In other cases, the stars attached to a remake of a TV show, old film or extrapolation of content in some other form for the screen means that the incipient storytelling idea is already second-rate. The one crystalline exception is the "Pirates" franchise, which I believe exceeded its pedestrian origins.

Anyway, besides pre-selling the idea through business branding, nepotism can be a factor is getting a script sold. However, by far, why you see drivel on screen is because plot usually takes precedence when you have a high-concept movie.

I’m asking a writer I’m thinking of taking on as a client to take a second more careful look at his character development and the world of the story in his second draft, both to see if he’s responsive to helpful criticism, and because even though this is a big, blow-em-up tent-pole movie, even those have to be about humans!

I need to care that they have one day to save the world.

I think that the environment is crucial to the script when you a drama, thriller or mystery. Because these stories live or die based on specificity, and showing you the underbelly (usually) of a world you only thought you knew.

LA: How do you pick projects?

M: As far as what I want to personally produce? It’s also a gut reaction -- something that just hits me, excites me. It’s not like I mentally sit there and say; are the characters compelling, is the world interesting? It’s more something about the story that galvanizes me, excites me or touches me and I respond to it.

It may be a story I connect to and am passionate about seeing made, because I personally relate. But this much is true, I have had a visceral response to any project with which I’ve ever become involved.

Since this is also a business decision, I must evaluate the market for this story, the probability that it will get made, the likely ticket recipients/overseas sales and how much time I am willing to invest reshaping the script, lining up investors, attaching talent and getting distribution, before I ever see any financial reward for my efforts.

I’ve read voraciously all my life and read writers from around the world and traveled extensively, so what I respond to encompasses many of these factors.

So no matter who the writer is, what their background is, if they can find a way to evoke emotion from me, something that resonates in me, I become very excited and enthralled by the story and as importantly, the writer’s very special and original voice. It then almost seems like a mission to try and get that story developed and into the marketplace.

For example: at a casual catch up dinner a few years back, a writer mentioned a true story that haunted me for three years afterward. And I felt it would be the interesting basis for a TV pilot. I begged her to write a couple of pages, but she didn’t want to write a treatment or put her story to paper.

So three years later, during Christmas, I open the LA Times and there was a little article about based on a true story that has similar facets to the anecdote I’d heard earlier. With this confirmation of the believability and interest that her own story could generate, she agreed to write a few pages.

I hooked her up with a TV showrunner. (A showrunner is usually a TV writer/PRODUCER who not only may create and write the show, but pitches it to the TV networks. The networks will only be in business with SHOWRUNNERS exclusively.)

As I mentioned, most showrunners are also writers, so for me it meant that finding one of the very few TV showrunners WHO DOES NOT WRITE, and would take therefore be open to an idea and help develop it.

I was attracted to the project (again, based on the kernel of the true story and the differing example in the LA Times,) by the fact that someone who chose to be anonymous was doing something that was very purposeful and helpful. Beyond the unselfish urge being celebrated, the way this benefactor went about targeting a very narrow slice of the population in order to have the greatest impact, made the effort both more realistically attainable, lent a bracing specificity to the nature of the gift, and imparted the wonderful act with more credibility and less intellectual piety than other stories of philanthropy we have seen before.

LA: And of course, when submitting a book or script, we have no idea whether it will touch that specific agent/manager/editor/producer or not.

M: Exactly, but I do think those stories that have resonance will touch an emotional cord. The Kite Runner about a world, talk about characters, I mean that’s universal--childhood friendship. Yet there’s no guarantee. The book did phenomenally well, but that success didn’t translate when it was made into a movie, it didn’t get the kind of box office that was expected based on the sheer number of people who read the best selling book.

LA: How about any tips for creating great characters?

M: For both screenwriters and authors, I would suggest reading a scene of dialogue aloud. If it sounds strange or forced, then regulate it so that it seems more conversational. Make sure that each character "sounds" distinctive – via vocabulary, references, dialect, volubility and emotional register.

See if you can read certain lines with varying meaning, is your writing open to interpretation? That usually means you have subtext, and an actor has the space to read between the lines and open up the character.

I think you know, part of being a good writer is being psychologically astute. Seeing what is being revealed to us. If you look at good actors blessed with a good script, they’ll show us volumes in the smallest gestures.

LA: That brings up another question: What you mentioned above was actors reading the script and understanding the character and bringing their own take to that?

M: Yes?

LA: Well I think maybe all scriptwriters should take acting classes.

M: You know what? I’m a huge huge huge huge believer in that. Two things, one a lot of writers are wonderful writers, but they’re not good pitchers. And unfortunately in LA and NY, as much as you need to be able to execute your story, if you can’t sell it in a pitch, people aren’t going to read it. There are courses in pitching your story, where they tell you to be animated, etc.

Second: When I say to a writer, "pitch me your story" at least 80-90% of the time, they can’t encapsulate their story. They’re all over the place and it makes me wonder what the heart of the story is if you can’t tell it IN ONE SENTENCE (the logline) then do you really know its commercial and emotional essence?

LA: I even run into that problem and I’ve been writing for years.

M: Yeah, it’s really hard. I always say you need to look at it in terms of who the protagonist is...a description. And what’s the journey they go through AND why would the audience be interested. It’s not like there are wildly different stories. I often use the example that there are a gazillion Baseball movies and every one of those writers found a way to take something that’s very common and twist it and make it interesting. And I think that’s part of a writer’s job.

LA: Right, which is probably the hardest job.

M: Probably the hardest. I mean I love writers. I have such respect for people that are story tellers. As I said, I’m a voracious reader, so when someone really captivates me, it’s thrilling.

So back to reading scripts: Actors can only create so much back story. In the screenplay, you need to be able to show us the behavior or actions that give us insight into this character. And I want to go on a journey. I always say that if you don’t grab me in the first two pages, I’ll read the first 10, but I don’t read beyond that. Because I want to be entered into a world. Into a character that’s interesting, that captivates me for an hour and a half.

FYI, 90 minutes equals roughly 90 pages of a screenplay.


So after we start creating our characters and give them dimension, we have to build a world for them--far easier said than done, but isn’t that true of writing in general?

And I loved Marilyn’s idea about reading dialogue aloud with varying meanings which can open up the words for subtext. This is a great tool for authors and screenwriters. It opens our minds, lets up play with the words, and what’s beneath the words--creating subtext, which remember is the meaning or emotion below the lines of what’s being said.

What do you think?

Stay tuned for Part 3, about Today’s RomComs vs. the Screwball Comedies of the 30's and 40's.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Conversations with Marilyn Atlas, Film Producer/Personal Manager

I was fortunate to speak to Marilyn Atlas over the telephone. She's gracious, funny, inspiring and full of information.
I hope you enjoy our conversations as much as I did. The final post of this multi-blog series will be her bio. Wowser!
Please welcome Marilyn Atlas to the Five Scribes. ~Leslie Ann

Part I
Conversations about Diversity and Stereotyping.

Okay, I took a deep breath and dialed.

Leslie Ann: Marilyn? Hi, it’s Leslie Sartor.

Marilyn: How are you, my dear?

LA: Feeling so lucky to talk to you. Thank you for doing this.

M: Oh, no. My pleasure. I thought your questions were great.

(Prior to our conversation, I’d emailed her a list of questions we might want to talk about. She graciously took the time to write answers, so you’ll find a mix of both during this blog series.)

LA: Really? Thanks. I was a little concerned as this is my first interview.

M: I don’t write at all, not a lick, I can talk, but I don’t write. But I thought MY GOD, this seems like a reporter wrote these.

LA: Stunned silence on my end, then a squeaky, "Thank you."

And with that, Marilyn put me at ease, and I felt as if I was talking to an old friend, one who didn’t hold back, one who loves to pass on information.

LA: The last line in your bio states that you’re committed to projects that reflect diversity and portray non-stereotypical characters. I believe, when talking about the portrayal of diversity, it can be as sweeping as using terms like "people of color," "Latinas" (ethnicity) or "Catholics" (religion,) but I also think it can be as narrow as a white vs. white or whichever color is being written about. The characters can be white, the project can be mainly white, but we still need to create diversity within this project and create non-stereotypical characters.

M: Definitely! Opposing points of view are really why there are these basic classifications to begin with. Along with that of course are varying degrees of codes of morality and social mores. But, as long as you know intrinsically your characters’ backgrounds and reasons for acting the way they do, you can create richly textured worlds.

Specificity by definition exceeds the boring straitjacket of tropes. This is why I emphasize to writers they must really know who their characters are. Only then can the writer truly show what the characters want, their goals, needs, etc.

LA: Tropes? You’re talking about Archetypes, aren’t you?

M: Yes. I think when you’re creating character...and Archetypes is one of the ways writers create characters or they check Meyer Briggs...I think you want to bring something different to it.

LA: Bring our own experiences to that archetype?

M: You know, it’s always recommended that you write what you know, but that can be expanded into researching what you know.

Knowledge doesn’t have to be based solely on experience, and if you survey your world in depth, then broadly, and then in a random, highly particular corner with no ostensible connection to what you want to do, you’ll come up with the oddities of locality that will imbue your story with juicy credibility.
I recently read a book by a white gay writer yet his portrayal of a marriage and specifically the young African American protagonist was so rich, so universal and the writer so insightful, it hardly mattered his ethnicity or sexual orientation.
I am a big believer in using one’s imagination (after having done your research) and I do not fully adhere to solely writing what you know. Even when writing what you know, it’s the writer’s original take, his voice and execution that make a story and characters memorable.

Also, I would imagine that writing about yourself, your neighbors, your friends lends a working familiarity that is hard to beat. But for more experienced or ambitious writers, there should be no explicit limits placed on themselves.

I’m so concerned about writers writing stereotypes because it’s sloppy writing to me.

LA: Lazy.

M: Yes, lazy. Exactly.

LA: Regarding Diversity. The first thing that pops into my head when I hear the word is racial or ethnic diversity.

I’ve spoken to many writers at conferences, in classes and on line that often feel uncomfortable writing outside their race because portraying another race, ethnicity or even region (south vs. west for example) is challenging to nail down without offending.

M: I really believe taboos or conceived politically/racially offensive lines should be redrawn.

If art, insight or experience can transcend initial fears, then use this foreign context to show the preconceptions of the author’s natural community in approaching this kind of material, or conversely highlighting the astigmatism within this newly explored, sensitive community as more ably seen from an outsider’s perspective.

LA: Before we had our conversation, I went to Webster’s dictionary, and one definition of diversity is: "composed of distinct or unlike elements or qualities." That definition could be perceived to be simply what we talked about above, but I’m thinking "distinct or unlike elements" can be so much more.

M: Yes, exactly. One of things I thought was so interesting about Real Woman Have Curves (Marilyn Atlas--Producer. HBO Independent Films, available on DVD) is that normally in immigrant families, particularly Latino families, it’s usually the mother that’s the back bone and encourages the kids to go out and make a life for themselves. And in RWHC it was the father. He was very understanding of his kids, so that to me was interesting. He was diverse in both ethnicity but also and perhaps more importantly in his qualities.

Because I have actor clients and read for them, to me it’s always about finding a character that’s a little different, that’s three dimensional, that has qualities you don’t necessarily think they should have.

It was Marilyn’s last line: "...that has qualities you don’t necessarily think they should have" that really crystallized the fact I must not simply be content to create characters I already know.

That in order to create interesting and notable characters I must go beyond the archetype foundations and go outside my comfort zone to build characters that will make producers, editors, readers, viewers and actors, take notice.


What do you think? Please, go ahead and join the conversation.

This was a great segue into tomorrow’s blog about What Actors Want in a Script and Creating Worlds. See you then.

~ LA

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Debra Dixon's Workshop: Goal, Motivation & Conflict

Debra Dixon recently gave a workshop for two of my writing groups, Pikes Peak Romance Writers and Pikes Peak Writers. My blog partners went nuts. Tell us what you learned, they wanted to know. How may blogs do I have, I replied.

For anyone who doesn't know who Debra Dixon is, she is the author of one of the staples of craft writing,
Goal Motivation & Conflict. Without GMC, you don't have a novel, short story, joke, what have you. GMC is your foundation.

Debra started out the workshop doing two things: Having us set up two worksheets analyzing the
Wizard of Oz and our own Works in Progress (WIP). Personally, I love this form of teaching because while we can see the GMC of Dorothy, the Wizard, the Scarecrow, Lion, etc. when pointed out to us, it's not as easy to define in our own WIPs.

From this stage, Debra went on to show GMC, emphasizing you should
show don't tell these integral parts of your story. Conflicts get complex, not complicated, she explained. If your character is the same on page 400 as he was on page one, you haven't done your job.

She also taught that
goals are actionable, e.g. world peace is a dream; disarming a nuclear warhead is actionable. Conflict equals disruption. Further we want to anticipate the conflicts to come, and a point that really helped this writer is that conflicts and goals can change as the story progresses.

Using other craft mentors such as Christopher Vogler's
The Hero's Journey, Mythologist's Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth, Debra combined these techniques with her own to explain external and internal goal, motivation and conflict.

She used movies as examples, making it painfully clear to this writer that I don't watch enough movies. Perhaps one movie I have to see after Ms. Dixon's workshop is
The Hunted with Tommy Lee Jones and Benecio Del Toro. In this workshop, Debra explained the two main protagonists' GMC in two succinct phrases: Hunt to Kill, Hunt to Save.

I also loved that she pointed out our characters' GMCs will be occurring at different stages in the book, e.g. not everyone's story begins at the same point in time. I appreciated that she isn't black and white in how she expects us to to use her book and charts. She respects the writer's process. For instance if you need to know where you're going from start to finish of your book, great! However, if you're more of an organic writer (Panster), GMC is a gut check to make sure you're incorporating these critical components in your story.

I could go on and on about what I learned in Debra Dixon's workshop. This is mainly what
I got out of it, which is a whole lot. Above all, I was inspired. For anyone who has an opportunity to see Debra Dixon in person, or attend one of her workshops, and is wondering if her class is worth the expense, consider this. With the exception of a short lunch and two breaks, she never stopped teaching. Further, she puts Goal, Motivation and Conflict into perspective; Debra Dixon makes writing make sense.

From the book: GMC: Goal Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon
Check out for Debra's latest adventure in publishing.)

or Contact:

P.O. Box 172342
Memphis, TN 38187

Words of Wisdom

"All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand." – George Orwell

"Engrave this in your brain: EVERY WRITER GETS REJECTED. You will be no different." – John Scalzi

From CS Weekly;

Friday, October 24, 2008

Are tattoos becoming cliché?

When I started this post, I had a vague notion of what I wanted to discuss. It turns out I had a heck of a lot more to say than I realized. In the interest of keeping this short and hopefully interesting, I'm going to break up the points of discussion over the next several weeks. However, there will be a Very Special Intermission (but unlike the Very Special Episode of Blossom, this will actually be cool) for an author interview.

On to the discussion!

Last week, I saw a video about the branding used on urban fantasy covers. For the link-averse, he displays a series of book covers to exemplify what he feels is overdone in cover art. Within this series is a long string of tattoos on portrayals of the heroines (including Marjorie Liu's The Iron Hunt, which is sorta kinda about tattoos, which makes the cover sorta kinda authentic to the story, kthanx).

This made me wonder about the significance of the tattoos in the urban fantasy stories themselves. Are tattoos a cliché? Becoming cliché? Or are they (becoming or already) a trope? Full disclosure time: I have a tattoo and plans for more. One of my stories (the urban fantasy, heh) features tattoos as part of the world.

Clearly, not all UF and paranormal romance heroines have ink (even some of those on the UF covers portrayed with a tattoo don't actually have one), and not all ink serves the same purpose within the story or world. But even if the tattoos were, across the board, there only for the purpose of art on the heroine's skin, would this really be as terrible as SciFiGuy seems to imply?

Ink might be trope-ish because it fits within the demographic range of urban fantasy heroines and often of paranormal romance heroines. Specifically, these women are urban or at least modern and steeped within their society and world. Given the number of women sporting tattoos these days (especially tramp stamps), is it any wonder UF and PR heroines also have tattoos?

Another reason the tats don't feel cliché to me is because of their symbolism. A trope of UF is the "kick-ass heroine." Heroines don't have to physically kick it, but they have to be strong in character. They have to be doers, motivated, good at their chosen work.

Tattoos in Western culture have been remarkably common (even in the Victorian period) yet not really mainstream until the last decade or two. Those for whom they have been most common have been warriors. Sailors. Soldiers. Marines. Tattoos in many societies are received during rites of passage. In some cultures, the act of getting painful, full-body tattoos over the course of days constitutes the entirety of the rite.

It could be said that tattoos are symbolic of warriors and of strength in endurance. These are appropriate phrases to attribute to UF heroines and many PR heroines. Even the heroines who don't tangle physically with the enemy are warriors at heart. And boy howdy do they endure.

I'll pose a few questions here to get the conversation rolling. Respond to any, all, or none. Maybe there's a giveaway involved. Who knows? ;)
  1. You know we all love to see each other's ink. Share the photographic evidence in the comments, and let us all be voyeurs.
  2. If you have an opinion about tats in UF and PR, regardless of the opinion, dish.
  3. What do you think the significance of tats is? Do you think there's a symbolism behind them that fuels their popularity in feminist fiction?

Next time, I'm going to pull back from this specific trope/cliché discussion and hopefully drum up some fun conversation about general genre tropes and clichés.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Death of the Bookstore

With all the recent doom and gloom projections for the book industry - and specifically for print books in light of the success of e-readers like the Sony and Kindle - I've been prematurely pining for one of my favorite pasttimes. For years, I've enjoyed nothing more than a trip to the local mega bookstore for a cup of coffee and hours perusing the aisles. I might buy a book (in fact, I probably will buy a book, even if my TBR pile now requires its own permits from city hall), but it's possible I'll leave with empty hands and singing heart.

I will mourn the day I can no longer spend an hour in the bookstore. That said, I love the green aspects of ebooks, and I love the thought that I can have that collection of stories (or more) at my fingertips and can carry around an armload of books in a single 2-pound device.

When Borders began to stumble several months ago, this issue really started to hit home. But I also wondered what the other big stores would do.

This morning, I had an e-mail from Barnes & Noble touting their new Barnes & Noble Home. It looks like B&N has decided to expand its gift and tawdry bauble section into a whole home accessories collection. I'm intrigued, but I'm also sad that one day, half my bookstore will be overrun by lamps and paperweights.

But to consider a happier thought, perhaps this is the opportunity the small (non-chain) bookstores need to make their comeback. If I found one with a coffee bar, a sizeable and rotating selection of paper books and magazines, kiosks to peruse and perhaps sample the electronic editions of other books, cool music, friendly employees, and comfie chairs (with nearby electrical outlets, please), I wouldn't just shop there.

I'd live there.

How do you feel about the changing market? And do you fear for the career potential for authors, or do you think the e-book revolution will merely alter the way careers are born and maintained?

Viva la Revolución! ;)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Can you spell d-e-a-d-l-i-n-e? Kylie Brant can

By day Kim Bahnsen is a [ahem] meek and mild-mannered special education teacher, devoted wife and mother of five mostly grown children, four boys and a girl, the youngest a set of twins. Put this empty nester into fiction mode, however, and she turns into Kylie Brant, a whirling dervish who spins one heart-stopping series romance after another for Silhouette Romantic Suspense. Now Berkley Sensation has recognized this talent and created a maelstrom for its single-title line. I've always wanted to know how she does it. It's our lucky day to find out. Please welcome Kylie Brant to the Five Scribes ~ Donnell

D.B. Kylie, I am so delighted you've joined us today. Before we get started, I have a confession. I became familiar with your work when you won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense for the published contest, which means your book Entrapment took home the greatest honor, beating out some of the highest caliber mystery and romantic suspense authors in the industry. I wanted to see what was so special about this author that made this book rise to such estimable ranks. I soon knew and have been a fan ever since. You've also been nominated for two Ritas and four Romantic Times awards. So now that I have you completely at ease, let's pull out all the stops: How do you do it?

K.B. Well, I think being completely insane to begin with helps ;). Then I don't miss those brain cells so much when they leak out at a rate in direct proportion to the number of balls I'm juggling at any one time!

D.B. As I look at all the books you had/have on the shelf, Terms of Surrender out now, Terms of Engagement , coming January 2009, Terms of Attraction coming in August 2009 all from Silhouette Romantic Suspense, and then see Waking Nightmare, Berkley Sensation, September 2009, Waking Evil, October 2009 and Waking the Dead due for release in November 2009, I have in mind either to lie down with a cold compress, or write my own book entitled, Terms of Living in a Waking Nightmare. What do you think? Has it been done? Possibly by you?

K.B. Have you been talking to my husband ;) I think he feels he's trapped in that nightmare as a result of all my deadlines!

I usually don't have this much craziness going at once. But I had written a single title and was shopping it around. Then while I waited, I shot Silhouette another proposal. I signed the contract with Silhouette for the TERMS trilogy four months before I sold The MINDHUNTERS trilogy to Berkley. Things started piling up in a hurry because Berkley wanted to release the books back to back, which I'm thrilled about naturally.

D.B. Before I lead the reader to think fate and luck just landed on your doorstep, and that hard work and talent had nothing to do with it, how many books have you written?

K.B. I've written twenty-five for Silhouette, two of which haven't been released yet. And the first two MINDHUNTERS books are done for Berkley so that's twenty-seven altogether.

Did writing always come naturally, or was it a process you had to learn and adapt?

K.B. I was a reader first, as most of us are. We learn so much about writing just by immersing ourselves in books. But, yes, writing came easily to me in school, although I never considered doing it professionally.

Since I started out in a state of total ignorance, I still had to learn! Still do, actually. I hope to be still honing my craft as long as I continue writing. But I started in the time of pre-Internet, pre- e-mail, pre-me knowing anything about the industry. I belonged to no writing organizations; knew no one else who was writing. Compared to some savvy aspiring authors I've met, I may as well have been living in a cave (and with four boys there were similarities)!

D.B. I love your pre- comments, especially that you were a pre-me :) Okay, see if anyone besides me gets that joke. Would you share your call story with us, Kylie?

K.B. Actually the day I got the call, I was home from work, sick in bed with laryngitis. Leslie Wainger's assistant called. She was really just checking my contact information because I'd neglected to include my phone number with the manuscript. Remember that ignorance I was telling you about? Anyway, she was just thrilled because Leslie was reading my manuscript as we spoke, and the assistant was the one who'd found me in the slush pile.

I didn't know what a slush pile was, but I thought she'd said flush pile, and that didn't sound promising. She told me Leslie would be calling later. After we hung up I started to wonder if I'd dreamed it. Had the conversation been a Vicks VapoRub hallucination? I could only lie there wondering. Fortunately, a couple hours later Leslie did call and offer for the manuscript. I could barely talk, but I managed to croak out a "Yes!"

That was actually the second manuscript I'd written. A couple months later Leslie bought my first attempt, too.

D.B. [note to self and readers -- always include phone numbers] Kylie's call story sounds like a chapter straight out of Sandra Brown's Envy in which the heroine/editor hunts down the protagonist/writer. I WISH all of us would be so lucky :) Include those phone numbers! But I digress ;). Kylie, please describe for us a day in the life of Kylie Brant.

K.B. It depends on whether it's a school day or not. If so, I'm up at six, on the treadmill, then at work by eight. After school I exercise or run errands and then if the evening is free (and when I'm under deadline I try to keep them free!) I sit down at the laptop. On weekends and summers, there's not much difference except I waste more time :). I'm up at seven, exercise, read the paper and then to the computer. When I have a full day to devote to writing I try to write at least ten pages. Then it's dinner and spending the evening with my husband.

D.B. Very nice! What is a perfect day for Kylie Brant, and then reverse it. What makes you wonder why you ever sat down at a keyboard?

K.B. A perfect day for me is one spent with my family. Just hanging out tailgating or going somewhere together. I need to intersperse my writing time with times like these to keep me fresh. A perfect day writing is when everything flows, and I start writing things I never knew were going to happen and they dovetail perfectly with what came earlier. Dialogue flows and the plot flawlessly unfolds -- that's a golden day.

A less shiny day, shall we say ;) is one like the last two I just spent. I had a book due and the darn thing wouldn't end. Went on nearly sixty pages past the time I thought it would be over. It's like running a marathon only to discover someone lied to you about the length. The pages get written extremely fast, but there's a point where I feel I'm never going to finish.

D.B. I know you wrote for Silhouette for many years before breaking into Single Title. Is that what we should call it -- breaking in? Or would you describe it differently?

K.B. I'm not one of those who feel there's something inherently superior about writing single titles rather than category. But yes, your description is somewhat accurate because some agents and editors have a preconceived notion of a writer's ability based on the fact she came from category. So sometimes there's a sense we have to prove ourselves. And when it comes to plotting, the two entities (category and single title) are very different beasts, each with its own challenges. Probably the biggest difficulty breaking into single title for me was coming up with a high concept, complex enough to sustain a trilogy in the longer length and unique enough to capture an agent and editor's interest. I'm having a ball with the longer format, because I do a lot of layering with characterization along with the suspense, and I love having the length to do justice to the story.

D.B. You gave me a sneak peak at Waking Nightmare, the first of the MINDHUNTERS books. Wait until readers get a load of Forensic Psychologist Abbie Phillips as she teams with Savannah-Chatham lead detective Ryne Robel. They work to bring down a serial rapist who uses a designer drug to make his victims live through their deepest, darkest fears. This book is edgy, scary and had me not wanting to turn off the lights. At the same time you had me caring for your characters and rooting for them to end a psychopath's madness.

I envision your office as one plotting board after another, Kylie. True?False? How do you as you're writing these books keep the inherent structures, plots and characters apart? And a personal question if I may -- do you write when you're alone? Sometimes as I write I scare myself and I had to ask;)?

K.B. LOL. Okay, I've never been able to keep my family out of my office, so I wouldn't say it's completely my own space. And I do my share of piling but my husband sees any flat surface as a challenge, and is compelled to cover it as soon as possible. So my desk is usually a disaster. I used to clean it between books but now I clean before tax appointments. It's interesting, but I'm a totally different sort of person writing than I am in my 'real' life. Usually, I'm very organized. Still a procrastinator [grin] but always writing lists and checking things off as they're accomplished. With writing ... not so much. I have a few tools/charts I have used, but frankly don't use anything consistently. The thought of plot boards make me smile ;). I'm an organic writer and I enjoy letting the story unfold on its own. But my new goal is to start using character lists just to keep track of people's names. I had to go back and check minor characters' names a million times in this book! The major characters are very real to me and there's no chance of inconsistencies in their development. I do catch minor plot inconsistencies as I edit.

D.B. When you're plotting a book, will you describe your process and then detail for us how long it takes you to write the book afterward? Do you ever have writer's block, and how do you free it?

K.B. All I can say is it's in my head first. This nebulous idea of people and places and conflicts. It starts taking shape while I'm finishing one book. I like to start writing the first couple chpaters to get a clearer picture before I stop to write a synopsis.

I sort of have an overall idea of the story. The main characters and overall plot are clear first. How I'm going to get from point A to point B is a bit fuzzy as I start;). I'm not a good synopsis writer, but force myself to do a short one simply because the plot starts to unfold as I write things down. But I've never been able to stick to what I say is going to happen in a synopsis.

For instance, I sent in a book today. I'll start the next book tomorrow. And I'll start by writing the first two or three chapters before I start wondering what's going to happen in the middle. Organic writer. I like that term so much better than 'panster'!

I don't do drafts, per se. Usually one time through the book is it. But each time I begin writing again, I read the last couple chapters to get back into the book, and do light editing at the time. When it's done I like to read through the entire thing, keep a running list of things that need clarifying or changing, keeping an eye out for inconsistencies (especially in timelines) and then go back through and fix those. I might rewrite a few pages as I go. But then it pretty much goes in.

Writing alone is my favorite because my husband is distracting! He also offers 'helpful' little pieces of advice, like 'just end it!' that really offers no assistance when I'm stressed and on page 550 for a book I thought would be over by 500!

As for how long it takes me to write the book -- as long as they give me;). I'm a pretty fast writer, though. This last book took four-and-half months. Keep in mind during that time I was also working on another book (due Aug. 1), two sons got married, I took two trips, school started up again and I had surgery. So I'm pretty pleased it got done as fast as it did. But if I were to take what I consider a comfortable amount of time, I'd like four months for a category and five months for a single title. I just don't always get it!

I've found writer's block, for me, often is overcome by just getting outside and walking four miles or so. Working through the plot problems as I move almost always helps. Otherwise, if I'm still stuck, I'll do a stream of consciousness thing where I write down all the possible solutions to the problem, no matter how nonsensical.

D.B. Okay, now my tummy hurts! :) Let's talk research. I know you do it. Lots of it. What are your favorite sources? Do you travel or do you learn mostly by reading?

K.B. Mostly I research books. I'll read six or seven while researching a story. which I do as I'm writing. I have a rather extensive library that would give some pause when they read the titles ;). I almost always talk to or e-mail experts and get realistic facts that way. I've rarely traveled to research, but did go to Oregon last summer to plot my next book. I needed to find a cave in the forest to hide bodies [grin]. It was wonderful. I just stood there sometimes as we were hiking, and scenes would unfold in my head. The entire ending scene of the book played out the way we were walking through the forest. Actually visiting the place is a great way to get a sense of the setting, making the mood and details so much more vivid.

D.B. Agreed about setting, and as soon as I locate those pennies under my cushions, I'm there ;) Which of your books is/are your favorite(s)? What are the benefits of writing series over single title and if you could change one thing about writing for either line, what would it be?

K.B. My favorite book is the one I just finished ;). If I had to choose some, a few that come to mind are Entrapment, The Business of Strangers, Terms of Surrender and this last one, Waking Evil. But I've learned my favorites are rarely the favorites of others' so it's all about individual preferences in a book.

The benefit of writing for category is there is no worry about marketing or distribution because all the books in the line are handled the same way by the company. You know they are going to be on the shelves in xxx places, and don't have to worry about distributors selecting your individual book for their clients. Sales are important, but they don't make and break careers as much as they do in single title. There's more of a comfort level, because it doesn't all boil down to an individual author.

I'm looking forward to working with Berkley to build my single title brand, but it's like working without a net ;). If the books don't sell it's all on me.

I love SRS. Started reading the line with the very first Intimate Moments book. I love the emotion and suspense. But I'm a writer who wants to put the suspense first, with a satisfying relationship in the background. In category, the reader's expectation is romance first, which means I can't write as complex a suspense plot as I want. I find it increasingly challenging to do justice to the story with the decreased word count in the series. But I still love the line, its promise and the satisfying love story that can be found in each book. I'm just more comfortable writing longer.

D.B. A personal observation of mine as I've been reading and judging contests is that authors (I hope unintentionally) imitate well-known and best-selling authors. What do you do in your writing to keep your work your own, e.g. fresh, unique and to keep the reader coming back?

K.B. I think it's exceedingly difficult to imitate another author's style or voice. That's just something that's so unique to the individual that I rarely see it. But as far as chasing trends...yeah, that's prevalent in the industry. Something gets hot and other authors play off that. It works somewhat because say big selling author X is being published well by house A, and House B also has a big selling author selling very similar types of books. A savvy author looks at the other houses and notices they have no one writing the same thing. Publishing houses are often looking for their own answer to author X, who is selling buckets, so writers can find niches following trends and landing in different houses.

Then there are 'hot' sub-genres and publishers will grab up all the stories they can because they're selling like hotcakes, so authors will write those kinds of stories because, again, they are finding a niche. So there's a reason for it. It pays off for both authors and publishers.

People talk about writing the book of their heart, but the book of my heart is the one that will pay off some college loans ;).

As far as keeping my writing fresh [shrug]. My voice is what it is. I doesn't change. I've been told forever that I have a very mainstream voice, even when I was writing only categories. But I always want to offer the reader something they can't find anywhere else, so I try to find a twist in a plot that's unique. And I get a lot of comments about the depth of my characterization. That's a particular interest of mine, as I'm fascinated by what makes people tick! So I think something special can be found in my story people.

I think what makes the Berkley single titles different is the stories are very dark thrillers, with an intricate complex suspense, but they still have a realistic and satisfying romance. Finding the right balance in RS can sometimes be difficult.

D.B. I fully concur. What is the nicest thing a reader has ever said about your writing? What is the most uncomplimentary, and how did you handle it? What advice would you give aspiring authors as far as accepting praise and negativity as well.

K.B. :) I once had a fan meet me for the first time who was shocked because she thought I was a man. ;) She told me no woman could write that way! I had to laugh. I'm most thrilled when readers tell me they were touched by the story and how invested they got in the characters. That's really why I write.

I once had a blowhard here in town (who would never deign to read any of my books!) ask me how I could ever hope to write anything original with all the books already out there. I was absolutely stunned. I don't think he realized how offensive that was. I asked sweetly, "Well, all the words in the human language have been uttered millions of times. How do you hope to ever 'say' anything original?" My husband dragged me away [grin].

The best advice I ever had was don't believe your own press. Weigh the positive and negative equally. But remember, you learn more from the negative stuff (unless it's an attack) then the positive. The good is fun, but if the negative feedback has a valid point, I'll keep that in mind as I write other books. So I learn from valid negative feedback where I just enjoy the strokes of the positive. So my advice would be to leave your ego at the door when it comes to feedback. A writer needs a thick skin! The trick in weighing feedback, especially in a contest, is to look for judges who are mentioning the same things and offering the same sort of comments. When there is a trend, that's when you should give it more weight, whether it be negative or positive. If one judge hates something about your story and another praises it, you've just hit something that reveals individual tastes. And the thing to remember is you can hit those same yes/no responses about the story with an editor. It's all very subjective.

D.B. I would have paid money to watch that blowhard's face ;). On a final note, what advice do you have for aspiring authors who also want to learn to spell d-e-a-d-l-i-n-e?

K.B. Finish the book. It's that simple. I know so many terrifically talented writers who go to editor appointments every year and get an invitation to submit, then don't complete the book. You can't sell what you don't finish. And once you do sell, the name of the game is discipline. Stick to daily/weekly writing goals to get the book done on time.

D.B. Kylie, this has been such an honor. Thank you so much for your sound, inspiring and detailed advice. I wish you awesome success with your books!

K.B. Thanks for inviting me, Donnell :). It was a blast. I invite readers to check out my website at to see complete information regarding upcoming books, including excerpts and to sign up for my quarterly newsletter if they wish. Starting in December, there also will be quarterly contests posted, so be sure to check back in!

And speaking of contests, for our readers today, and for those who leave a question or comment, we will be drawing for one person to receive a copy of Kylie Brant's most recent release,Terms of Surrender.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Words of Wisdom

"If you would not be forgotten,as soon as you are dead and rotten,either write things worth reading,or do things worth the writing."
– Benjamin Franklin

"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer." – Ernest Hemingway

From CS Weekly;

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Interview with MIRA editor, Adam Wilson

As many of you know, I coordinate The Sandy Writing contest for Unpublished authors. I'm happy to say that this is the first of many interviews with The 2009 Sandy's wonderful final judges. Adam Wilson is the assistant editor for MIRA Books, and he'll be judging the romance category. We are very excited to have Adam's expertise, so check out his bio and interview below and see if perhaps you should enter The Sandy to earn a chance of getting your work on Adam's desk.~ Theresa

Adam Wilson, assistant editor, MIRA Books

Adam has worked with many bestselling authors during his nearly four years with Harlequin, including Heather Graham, Linda Howard, Susan Wiggs, Carla Neggers, and Jason Pinter. His overall work has been diverse and has spanned the house's imprints: MIRA, RDI, Spice, HQN, LUNA, Steeple Hill, and the several Silhouette and Harlequin series. Raised in Colorado, matured in Washington, and settled in New York, he’s attended college in each state and found editorial work to be a great boon to his love of the written word. Currently, he is looking to add thrillers, romantic suspense, commercial literary fiction, relationship novels, non-vampire paranormals, young adult, historicals, erotica, and anything with great writing to his list.

  1. Which categories do you currently acquire? Which category is your favorite?

    Answer: Since MIRA has a fairly broad program, I'm acquiring for a number of things. I would, however, particularly like to find bring commercial literary fiction projects to the house, as well as young adult works, romantic suspense, and out-of-the-box paranormals.

  1. In terms of submissions, what are you sick to death of and what would you like to see more of?

Answer: Honestly, I have seen a glut of vampire books and am having a hard time reading more. There are a lot of great authors already writing them, so it's hard to find something new and fresh in the genre that doesn't feel gimmicky. I'd hate to try and tell people what to write, but personally, I'd like to see more historical paranormals, or paranormals that are really presenting new ideas.

  1. Do you accept unagented and/or email queries? E-mail queries?

Answer: The official policy of MIRA is to not take unagented materials, so generally I do not. This is also just a logistical matter of time--it's hard to finish the reading list I already have! However, I generally don't mind reading synopses or something short from a non-agented writer. And of course I like things via email--it's portable, eco-friendly, and lets me organize everything better!

  1. What length synopsis do you prefer to see with a partial?

Answer: I like to see about two pages, personally. That way I can see how it's developing in a little more detail. Also, I can get a little better sense of a writer's style that way. (So definitely make sure your synopses are polished when submitting to editors.) I also prefer not to be 'marketed to' in the synopsis--generally I'll know what I need or can work with and really just want to see what's going on in the story itself, not in an author's meta commentary on their work.

  1. What are the compelling elements that you think are necessary for a good read? What particularly grabs your attention?

    Answer: I'm someone who values the texture of good writing probably even a bit more than plot itself, though I am a little atypical that way in the genre perhaps. I think what sets one, say, love story apart from another is the feeling you get when reading about it, not the plot points driving conflict. That said, you need plot and texture, both, but I do tend to be more intrigued by writing than plot when I'm reading.

  1. Does meeting an author face-to-face at a conference make a difference in your response time, the submission process, or the rejection process (ie. Form letter vs a few sentences of advice)?

Answer: It does, sure. Unfortunately, the response time can still be quite lengthy in either event, but it does make me more inclined to read a project. As for 'advice,' I usually give that based on whether or not I think I have something to say that can be said gently and constructively, more so than whether I know the person.

  1. Besides the writing, the story and the talent, what are the most important elements you look for in an author, ie. contest wins, cooperativeness, affiliations to writers organizations, knowledge of publishing industry, promotability, etc?

Answer: That's quite a good question, though difficult to answer. I guess when I think back, I've been more impressed by cooperative authors, those who can take feedback particularly. It's not always easy to incorporate feedback, but it's important to try. Half of writing is rewriting and editing, even for the best. So that's step one. Promotability is probably the other thing that will help an editor to convince others within the house to take a chance on a new author, and I do consider it, but I'm more interested in the reader than the marketers, so I have less of a head personally for that most of the time.

  1. What do you love most about your job?

Answer: I love the variety of tasks involved. There is more than just reading, and everything goes toward making a project that will a) influence whoever reads it, and b) make an author's career dreams come true (hopefully). I like seeing what authors come up with, how they think of relationships in their books, what their creativity manages to produce. Plus, MIRA (and Harlequin) is a fun place to work. The people are nice and entertaining, in the face of the craziness that is publishing.

  1. Do you have any pet peeves?

Answer: Oh tons. I live in New York, so of course a few things bother me now and then. Regarding my job, however, the biggest is when potential authors feel they can sort of strong-arm or 'market' me into buying their book, especially if they call. I don't mind a follow up email or something, but I'm like most people and don't like being cajoled. Also, incredibly strict grammarians really bother me. I know, it's strange for an editor to say that, but it's true.

  1. What’s your favorite genre/type of:
    1. Book: Literary Modernist
    2. Food: Tex-Mex
    3. Music: Assorted, but love Nirvana, hip-hop, and rockabilly
    4. Movie: various--does HBO's Rome series count? I loved that!
    5. Hobby: drawing, basketball

  1. What are you addicted to?

Answer: In the mornings, it's coffee, recently. In conversations, it's playing devil's advocate, sometimes. In person, I really like to try to get people to laugh. Some are hard to classify as addictions, but it's what I like.

  1. What have you always wanted to do?

Answer: I pretty much do what I want to do now. I write some on my own. I get paid to read and give my opinions on things. I help authors make their stories flourish. It's pretty fun, overall. I would like to travel more, and perhaps be made (benevolent) king of the planet, though.

  1. Do you have a favorite quote?

Answer: "Violence is for the unimaginative." --Professor X of the X-Men